USMCA Improvements

USMCA expected to improve investor confidence in Canada

  • Corwyn Friesen, mySteinbach
  • Posted on 10/05/2018 at 9:05 am

The Vice-President of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute is confident a new trilateral North American trade agreement will help bolster investor confidence in Canada.

Canada, the United States and Mexico have successfully concluded negotiations aimed at creating a United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement on trade.

Colin Robertson, the Vice-President and a fellow of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute, says from Canada and Mexico’s perspective it ensures preferred access to the largest market in the world and, for the United States, it illustrates to the world that, even with Donald Trump as President, they actually can do trade deals.

From a Canadian and Mexican perspective, it lifts the uncertainty about investment in Canada both by Canadians and by foreigners who look at Canada as an attractive destination. We’ve got a highly educated work force, we have energy, we’ve got capacity but if we don’t have access to the biggest market in the world they begin to think, why do we not we situate in the United States instead of in Canada.

But I think now that Canada has maintained and preserved its access to the United States as well as now having better access to the Pacific because of our membership in the Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership and to Europe through the Comprehensive Economic Trade Agreement that puts Canada in, I think, a quite enviable position.

Importantly for North America it once again means that North America can operate as a kind of platform, particularly in manufacturing. And we’ve made improvements. There are chapters now on the environment and labour and that introduces a kind of progressive element. And we’ve added a chapter on digital commerce, something that was in both the European and the Pacific agreements but was missing from the former NAFTA.

~ Colin Robertson, Canadian Global Affairs Institute

Robertson notes the USMCA will run for a minimum of six years and it can be renewed twice so it can go to 18 years with revisions as we go along which provides and added measure of stability.

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USMCA not done yet

A proposed deal – not NAFTA 2.0 but, in deference to U.S. President Donald Trump who initiated this 13-month odyssey, the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement.

Judging by the market reaction, the USMCA should be good enough to thaw the chill shared by investors, both Canadian and foreign, since the negotiations began. We are not out of the woods – congressional approval of the necessary implementation legislation is no slam dunk and there is still the threat of further Trumpian protectionism, whether direct or through collateral damage.

The dairy lobby is aggrieved but they dodged a bullet. Supply management, a protectionist system badly in need of reform, is preserved. We gave the Americans about half-a-percentage more of the market than they would have received had Mr. Trump not pulled out of the Obama-initiated Trans-Pacific Partnership.

Even with the additional quota negotiated for the EU in the Canada-EU trade pact (CETA), more than 90 per cent of our dairy market is still protected for Canadian producers. It is also a sure bet that the federal and provincial governments will open their wallets to provide adjustment assistance to the afflicted, although for taxpayers’ sake there must be demonstrable proof of injury. There is no reason why our dairy farmers cannot become as successful internationally as our beef and pork, grains and pulse producers, especially given the growing appetite for protein in the Indo-Pacific.

The dairy lobby’s cry of pain is reminiscent of that heard from vintners after the Canada-U.S. free-trade agreement (FTA) of 1988 opened up their market. Today their products are both very drinkable and sell more than ever before. The tentative new agreement means that U.S. wines will now share shelf space on British Columbians’ shelves with B.C. wines, but B.C. protectionism is the kind of non-tariff barrier that we rail against in other markets. Redress was overdue and it reminds us that, when it comes to protectionism, no nation has clean hands.

Canadian auto manufacturers have cause for celebration. It appears we have evaded Mr. Trump’s threatened 25-per-cent tariff and, even if trade is slightly more managed, the new rules of origin and the wage component could well create more opportunities, especially for Canada’s highly competitive parts manufacturers – our real niche in the global auto trade.

There is the potential for slight cost increases in pharmaceuticals with the extension of patent protection but provincial administrators are now very skilled at using their cartel power to get the best price from drug manufacturers. E-commerce shoppers can celebrate because purchases under $150 will now pass much more freely and our customs inspectors can focus on bigger game, including keeping counterfeits out of North America.

Our negotiators deserve a glass of sparkling wine (Canadian) but the USMCA is far from being a done deal. While majority governments in Canada and Mexico will be able to secure legislative implementation, passage in the next U.S. Congress is no sure thing.

We need to continue the advocacy campaign into the regions and within the Washington beltwayMost Americans still have no idea that their main export market is Canada and that jobs and prosperity depend on mutually beneficial trade and commerce. More than 300 Team Canada outreach missions made contact with more than 300 members of Congress, 60 governors or lieutenants-governor and most of the Trump cabinet. To protect Canadian interests this must become a permanent campaign.

 The premiers and provincial legislators must continue to play a critical role in reaching out to their counterparts and this should be a main discussion topic at the upcoming first-ministers meeting on trade. We need to increase our presence in the U.S. – a representative in every state should be our goal. Here again, the premiers can help through establishing offices in the states that matter most to them. Ontario is the province most dependent on the U.S. market. Instead of seeking federal handouts, Premier Doug Ford could learn from Quebec. La belle province has long had representatives in U.S. states. These representatives complement the work of our consulates.

Our dependence on the U.S. market – 75 per cent of our trade goes south – was used as leverage by Mr. Trump since only 18 per cent of U.S. exports head north. It is another reminder that we really do need to invest in trade diversification. We have deals with the European Union and with key Pacific partners, most notably Japan. How to realize opportunities opened by these agreements must be another discussion at the first-ministers conference. As with our permanent U.S. campaign, trade diversification must be a Team Canada effort.

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Winners and Losers US MCA

Who are the real winners and losers in the USMCA deal?

Canadian consumer will have more choice, says one researcher

From left to right, U.S. President Donald Trump, Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. The three countries have reached a new trade deal to be called the the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement, or USMCA for short. (Kevin Lamarque, Daniel Becerril, Chris Wattie/Reuters)

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Canadian consumers are among the biggest winners in the new USMCA deal, according to a researcher who focuses on international trade.

“In terms of dairy, wine, the de minimis threshold — I mean, it was all in the right direction in terms of easier access to goods and services abroad, lower prices and greater variety for the Canadian consumer,” said Christine McDaniel, a senior research fellow at George Mason University.

The de minimis threshold for duty-free shopping — the amount that Canadians can buy in the U.S. and bring back across the border without having to pay a duty — increased from $20 to $150.

The new deal — set to replace NAFTA — has been criticized by the steel and aluminum sectors for not removing U.S. tariffs, but praised by the auto industry for stopping those same tariffs affecting them. The dairy sector is disappointed over concessions made to push the deal through, while the government has been praised for preserving the independent dispute resolution mechanism.

The Current’s Anna Maria Tremonti was joined by trade experts from all three countries to help tally up the wins and losses of the USMCA:

  • Colin Robertson, a former Canadian diplomat who helped negotiate the Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement, and later NAFTA. He is now vice-president and fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute.
  • Antonio Ortiz-Mena, an economist who was part of Mexico’s negotiating team when NAFTA was first drafted. He’s now senior vice president at Albright Stonebridge Group, which provides strategic trade advice.
  • Christine McDaniel, senior research fellow at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University. Her research focuses on international trade and economics

    VOICE: I’m looking forward to signing this agreement with Presidents Trump and Pena Nieto. And I really would like to stress this will be good for workers in all three of our countries.

    AMT: There are wins and losses in the new US-Mexico-Canada agreement. Whose wins and whose losses? We’re asking. I’m Anna Maria Tremonti. This is The Current.

    Who are the real winners and losers in the USMCA deal?

    Guests: Christine McDaniel, Colin Roberston, Antonio Ortiz-Mena

    SOUNDCLIP

    VOICE 1: When the Prime Minister offered to renegotiate NAFTA, there were no sunset clauses, steel tariffs or auto quotas. And we already had a dispute resolution mechanism. So these are not new gains in this deal. So we had hoped that the government might negotiate gains for Canada, like an end to the buy America policy that cost billions of dollars and thousands of jobs.

    VOICE 2: Canadians are pleased today that we are moving forward on a historic record that stabilizes, secures and offers certainty to investors to Canadian businesses, but mostly to workers and folks in the middle class.

    AMT: So was it a win for Canada or not so much? You heard Conservative leader Andrew Scheer and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau going back and forth there yesterday in the House of Commons over USMCA, the United States Mexico Canada agreement, is set to replace NAFTA. I’m joined by trade experts from all three countries to help tally up the wins and losses for all involved. Colin Robertson is a former Canadian diplomat who helped negotiate the Canada US Free Trade Agreement and later NAFTA. He is now vice president and fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute. He is in Mexico City. Antonio Ortiz-Mena is an economist who was part of Mexico’s negotiating team when NAFTA was first drafted. He’s been head of economic affairs at the Mexican embassy in the U.S. He’s now senior VP at the Albright Stonebridge Group, which provides strategic trade advice. He’s in Washington, D.C. And for the U.S. Christine McDaniel is a senior research fellow at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University. Her research focuses on international trade and economics. She is also in Washington. Hi everyone.

    CHRISTINE MCDANIEL: Good Morning.

    ANTONIO ORTIZ-MENA: Hello.

    AMT: First of all, USMCA, is anybody calling you US-M-CA or anything like that? Like what are we calling it?

    CM: We’re calling it USMC.

    AMT: For now.

    CM: We’re trying to out how to say it really quickly.

    AMT: OK. I’m going to go around the table quickly and just get a sense of what you see as the most important gain for each country. Antonio Ortiz-Mena, let’s start. Most important gain for Mexico, quickly.

    AOM: Quickly, the fact that there is a new agreement as opposed to just endless uncertainty, in general. Specifically I’m quite obsessed about dispute settlement mechanism. So I’m glad to see that there is a strong dispute settlement mechanism. I think apart from that everything is less important.

    AMT: Colin Robertson. Hello, Colin. Colin Robertson did we lose you? OK while we try to find him, Christine McDaniel very quickly, what do you see as the most important gain for the United States?

    CM: Well I think the biggest gain right now is just the sense of relief you know that we averted disaster. And you know investor confidence hopefully will be built back up you know to the extent it was sort of on the brink there.

    AMT: OK. Colin Robertson what do you see as the biggest win for Canada?

    CR: Well I think I agree with Antonio that dispute settlement mechanism, but importantly the market certainty. You saw the market track yesterday that we now have a deal in the kind of zombie NAFTA zone. That wasn’t good for Canada or Mexico. That having access now once again to the biggest market in the world is important for Canada.

    AMT: Colin Robertson, I want to ask you I’m looking at the CBC opinion page today. Neil Macdonald has a piece where he says that under this deal, if Canada wants a trade deal with China, it must signal its intent ahead of time to the United States. It must submit the text of any deal to the United States and then accept Washington’s verdict on that.

    CR: Well I think what it says is, if Canada has an agreement with a non-market economy and I think you’re going to get some dispute as to because China is a member of the World Trade Organization, but is it a non-market economy. But it’s not a clause I’ve seen before, others have commented on it, Peter Clark as well. We’ll see how what it means in application.

    AMT: And doe that worry you? Given that Canada the real push that came out yesterday from various sectors in Canada was to say Canada needs to diversify so it doesn’t end up on a precipice again.

    CR: No because I think what that there is pressure on China, Canada is part of that steel reduction and things to bring China more fully into how we trade amongst nations and I think the more likely you would see efforts to bring China into what we now call the comprehensive from progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership, which I think is going to become the benchmark for trade agreements in the Pacific. And Canada and Mexico are both members of that and I see that as more likely to be the new benchmark and the encouragement to bring China into that and China will have to take on certain obligations.

    AMT: Let’s talk about some of the losses. Colin Robertson, we heard some negative reaction from dairy farmers on concessions regarding U.S. access to the Canadian dairy market. Canada has says it will compensate dairy farmers. What are we looking at there?

    CR: Well if the United States had joined the Trans-Pacific partnership, we would have given the United States an additional three and a half percent 3.25 percent quota. Instead we’re now giving them I think something like 3.75 percent quota. We’ve given the Europeans about 3 percent quota. So 90 percent of the market is still very much in Canadian hands, so it’s a very small increase. And as you pointed out, the governments, provincial and federal, have offered compensation. We did something similar with the wine industry after the negotiations of the Canada-US free trade agreement and you know it really did turn around our wine industry. Now we sell Canadian wines all over the world. So I think rather than looking at it defensively, we should be looking at it the same way our beef and pork, our grains and our pulse, we we are world gangbusters. I don’t see any reason why our dairy producers and you think of the superb cheeses we produce, strictly out of Quebec, why we can’t turn that around and become real international competition as we are in other parts of the agriculture sector.

    AMT: Christine McDaniel, if Canada is going to compensate the provinces and the federal government, dairy farmers for any losses. Is that how does the United States see that, does that go against free trade?

    CM: Well that’s their prerogative to do. You’ll recall that the United States is doing something similar or are considering doing something similar on agriculture in terms of the effects on US farmers from retaliation from China and others. So you know as long as it’s within the WTO rules and you stay within those parameters then it’s the country’s prerogative to do that.

    AMT: And so what’s the reaction in the United States that this deal has given more access to the Canadian dairy market?

    CM: Well I think it’s positive. It’s definitely in the right direction. I think you know one of the bigger winners here are the Canadian consumers. You know in terms of dairy, wine, the de minimus threshold. I mean it was all in the right direction, you know in terms of you know easier access to goods and services abroad, lower prices and greater variety for the Canadian consumer.

    AMT: Let’s talk about wine for a minute. In BC, the wine industry is going to have changes because the winds have traditionally had exclusivity in grocery stores in the province. Listen to Karen Graham, a wine industry consultant.

    SOUNDCLIP

    VOICE: For the BC wine industry it means a few different things. Some of them certainly today or by November 1, 2019 to be feeling the pinch a little bit in terms of increased competition on BC wine and grocery store shelves.

    AMT: Colin Robertson, there’s unhappiness on that front. What do you think?

    CR: Well this is an example of a kind of what we call non-tariff barriers. No nation is immune from protectionism and essentially what was being practiced in British Columbia was protectionism on behalf of the local vintners. Now again, I say BC makes a very good product. The BC wines are going to have to share shelf space with wines from the US and others. Something we really should have been doing under our NAFTA obligations. And this was sort of rectified in this agreement. I don’t see a problem because I think if you like BC wines, you’re still going to be seeing BC wines, but when you go in and you look at their shelf, you’re now going to have more choice. Yes, some of it is coming from the States, but you’re still going to have the BC wines there. It is up to the consumer to choose, which one he wants to get. And the fact we’re now in accordance with obligations we really undertook under the original North American Free Trade Agreement.

    AMT: I want to ask about the auto industry. Antonio Ortiz-Mena, how will changes in that sector impact Mexico?

    AOM: Well I think that the auto agreements are both a win and a loss for Mexico. I think they’re a loss because Mexico would have preferred to keep the original regional content rule of 62.5 percent regional value added. The fact that it went higher and that it has some wage related requirements means that the rules are pretty complex, they’re cumbersome and some companies might opt to trade under WTO rules, which only provide 42.5 percent tariff. And there’s also a side agreement whereby both Mexico and Canada have a guaranteed quota of 2.6 million autos to be exported from Canada or Mexico to the US, should the US impose new tariffs on autos, under national security laws. So I think that the rules again are very high. They could be cumbersome to implement and we’re looking at a world where this is some sort of an insurance policy. Why do we talk about quotas when we didn’t have quotas 25 years ago? The only way to understand that is we’re entering a new more protectionist world. So this sort of a sthe new agreements insurance policy provision. That’s the way I see it.

    AMT: Christine McDaniel, you’ve said you’ve had mixed feelings on this. How so?

    CM: Well I think you know the North American auto industry has been a relatively competitive on a global scale, but US, Mexico, Canada, automakers in the region, they need access to globally competitive priced inputs. You know I mean if was profit maximizing for them to have you know done some of these things in the past, then they would have been doing that. So you know this is you know putting a restriction on how much you know particular firms in a particular sector must pay their workers, restrictions on where they can get their inputs, at what price and how much. You know these are things that will restrict automakers in the region. You know in a time where you know the real growth is in Asia, so we want a strong competitive globally competitive automotive sector. And these restrictions do not necessarily align with that you know investor confidence.

    AMT: Colin Roberston, I’ll just get you to be brief on the impact for Canada because I want to go to one more topic too.

    CR: No, we’ve moved to similar to what we have in lumber, we’ve moved to manage trade in autos. Keep in mind this is something Donald Trump was insistent on and I make the bigger point is that these negotiations were not initiated by Canada or Mexico. This was very much initiated by the United States. I think the fundamental reason is that Canada and Mexico, 75 percent of our trade is with the United States. Only 18 percent or 17 percent of US trade is with Canada or Mexico. So the US exercised, under Donald Trump, exercised that leverage. I think we’ve come out of this OK. Is it perfect? No, but I think we’re in any trade agreement you take wins and losses and I think overall this is good. And you saw the market reaction, the fact we still have continued access to the biggest market in the world, that’s important for Canada Mexico.

    AMT: Colin Roberston, what about patent protection on certain drug classes being extended another two years. There are concerns that that could really affect provincial pharmacare plans and Canadians buying drugs.

    CR: I think that’s correct, although the cost of that through and the fact that we act as a bit of a cartel when we buy the drug. So yes there’s an additional two years protection for a particular stream of drugs called biologics. But you’re correct, Anna Maria, is the potential for slightly higher costs over a period of time is there, but mitigated in part by the fact that Canadian provinces who are the sort of administer the health care, do act as a cartel to try and get best prices from those they’re buying from.

    AMT: Christine McDaniel, we know the pharma lobby in the United States is one of the biggest lobby is that they had to get this deal. What was going on there?

    CR: Well remember back in our TPP days, they were lobbying very hard for 12 years on data exclusivity protection for biologics. And you know the end of the day, Australia, Canada, Chile, New Zealand, many others, banded together and really blocked that effort by the United States to do that. So the US was not able, it did not look like it was going to be able to do that in TPP. The fact that you know it appears to have sort of twisted Mexico’s arm and then for Canada join in they had it you know reluctantly agree to something that they apparently didn’t want to do earlier. You know that’s I think that’s interesting. Although they didn’t get, US didn’t get the full 12 years, they got 10 years.

    AMT: I’ve got music coming up. Means we’re running out of time. Thank you all of you for weighing in on some of these issues today.

    CM: You bet. Thank you.

    AMT: That’s Colin Robertson, vice president and fellow at Canadian Global Affairs Institute. Antonio Ortiz-Mena, senior vice president of the Albright Stonebridge Group and Christine McDaniel at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University. Stay with us. This is The Current.

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NAFTA Deal? No slam dunk

NAFTA’s future is uncertain, but here’s one plausible scenario

Negotiations might be about to go on hiatus…until 2019, and separate U.S. deals with Canada and Mexico loom as a very possible outcome

by 

Chrystia Freeland speaks to the media during the seventh round of NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) talks in Mexico City, on March 5, 2018. (RONALDO SCHEMIDT/AFP/Getty Images)

It’s been more than a year since the NAFTA renegotiations foisted on Canada and Mexico by U.S. President Donald Trump started, and so many so-called deadlines have come and gone since then that the word has lost its bite.

But this week, say senior Canadian government officials who spoke on condition they not be named, is different. The reason: When Trump announced his surprise bilateral agreement in principle with Mexico last month, he started a clock ticking that requires him, under the U.S. law known as the Trade Promotion Authority, to deliver the text of that deal by Sept. 30 to the U.S. Congress.

There’s still a slim chance that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s bargaining team will come to terms with Trump’s hardball negotiators over the next few days, in time to turn that bilateral U.S.-Mexico deal into a trilateral pact that includes Canada. But that looks increasingly like an extreme long shot.

The top-tier negotiators aren’t even meeting. Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland, hand-picked by Trudeau to handle NAFTA, is at the United Nations in New York this week, tending to other international files. U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, Trump’s powerful lead on NAFTA and other trade files, was also in New York, where he said on Tuesday, “The fact is, Canada is not making concessions in areas where we think they’re essential.”

READ MORE: When it comes to NAFTA, deadlines are meaningless

Predicting what happens next is fiendishly difficult. Several sticking points remain far from being resolved, including Canada’s stiff resistance to U.S. demands that NAFTA’s dispute-settlement mechanism be scrapped. As well, the machinery of domestic U.S. and Mexican electoral politics is bringing complex moving parts into play. A new Mexican president is slated to be sworn in on Dec. 1, while U.S. mid-term congressional elections, which could shake up both the Senate and the House of Representatives, are coming in early November.

Still, stipulating that there are too many political and policy variables to predict anything with much confidence, a Canadian official sketched the following scenario as one that’s emerging as a distinct possibility:

  • Trump delivers to Congress the text of his bilateral deal with Mexico as scheduled on or before Sept. 30, and soon after asks Congress to grant his administration new authority to negotiate a bilateral deal with Canada.
  • Congress takes the allotted 60 days to consider the U.S.-Mexico deal already finalized, and 90 days to study the Trump administration’s plan for bargaining toward a separate U.S.-Canada deal.
  • Assuming Congress accepts the U.S.-Mexico pact, Trump signs that deal with outgoing Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto by late November, before Pena Nieto is succeeded in December by Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, the new Mexican president elected in July.
  • In early 2019, the U.S. Congress, likely reshaped by those midterm elections coming up in early November, takes up the work of ratifying the U.S.-Mexico deal. And, at roughly the same time, fresh Canada-U.S. talks pick up where this fall’s frustratingly inconclusive sessions left off.
  • That means ratification of the U.S.-Mexico deal and negotiation of a possible U.S.-Canada pact are happening in tandem, making it possible they could still be combined into a trilateral NAFTA 2.0. Another possibility: parallel bilateral trade deals between the U.S. and its two former NAFTA partners.

There are lot of assumptions built into that sequence, many of which are wide open to debate. Colin Robertson, a former diplomat and vice-president at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute, says the actions of the U.S. Congress are just one serious question mark.

Will Congress accept that bilateral U.S.-Mexico deal, or insist on an agreement that includes Canada? Robertson says Democrats fired up by the battle over Senate confirmation of Trump’s controversial Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, appear to be in no mood to give any Trump proposition—including the bilateral U.S.-Mexico deal—an easy ride. “To assume it’s a slam-dunk in Congress, I just think is wrong,” Robertson said. “That would be my read watching the Democrats over the last weeks.”

Indeed, U.S. politics in the age of Trump are turbulent beyond the experience of any of the Canadian politicians or trade officials embroiled in these prolonged NAFTA renegotiations. Their hesitance to forecast anything is only prudent. But this much is clear: a future in which the nearly 25-year-old NAFTA is split in two is a prospect that Canadian officials are now mapping out seriously. This week’s deadline matters, and might even be looked back on one day as the start of the post-NAFTA era.

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NAFTA Deadlines

September 16, 2018

Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland is facing pressure to return to Washington this week in a bid to conclude a NAFTA deal under a deadline set by the Americans.

Ms. Freeland will be in Ottawa for the resumption of Parliament Monday, where the Liberal government will be defending the view expressed by her and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau that no deal is better than a bad deal when it comes to the North American free-trade agreement.

Top-level negotiations could resume as early as Tuesday between Ms. Freeland and her American counterpart, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, a federal government source said. But that has yet to be decided.

 Ms. Freeland and Mr. Lighthizer are expected to talk by telephone Monday to discuss whether she should return to Washington on Tuesday for more negotiations, the source said. Mr. Lighthizer signalled to the Canadians that he would be available if warranted on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday next week.

Several trade experts said she is likely to make the trip given that she is working under a tight timeline to reach a deal that would prevent the United States and Mexico from moving forward with a bilateral agreement as U.S. President Donald Trump has threatened.

Mexico wants an agreement concluded before incoming president Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador takes office on Dec. 1, and the U.S. administration must give Congress 60 days’ notice for a final text, meaning a Sept. 30 deadline. As well, Mr. Trump is keen to announce a new deal − which he wants renamed as the U.S.-Mexico agreement, or the U.S.-Mexico-Canada accord − prior to the November congressional elections, which are being billed as a referendum on his polarizing tenure in office.

“It’s do or die time for a trilateral deal if the goal is to get it done before Lopez Obrador takes office,” said Maryscott Greenwood, Washington-based chief executive of the Canadian American Business Council.

Ms. Greenwood said Canadian and American negotiators are making slow progress, but added that the United States appears willing to make some compromises. She noted that the U.S. side softened its position in a number of areas to reach an agreement in principle with Mexico late last month.

One veteran trade consultant questioned whether the end-of-month deadline is a real one.

“I think a deal is doable but we don’t have to be rushed,” said Colin Robertson, a former trade negotiator and vice-president of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute. He said there is no reason that Mexico’s incoming president, Mr. Lopez Obrador, could not conclude the deal that was reached with his blessing by his predecessor, Enrique Pena Nieto

“We’ve had these false deadlines before and this seems to me to be the weakest of them all,” he said.

Ottawa could disregard the deadline and take time to pursue a more favourable deal, while counting on Congress to block the administration’s effort to exclude Canada from the trade agreement, Mr. Robertson said. Leading members of Congress and the American business community have said that any new trade deal must include Canada, but Mr. Trump is threatening to impose crippling tariffs on the Canadian auto industry if there is no trade deal.

Key stumbling blocks continue to be U.S. demands that Canada provide significantly greater access to its dairy industry and Ottawa’s insistence on maintaining the Chapter 19 dispute-settlement mechanism that gives parties the right to challenge one another’s application of duties and punitive tariffs. There are several other outstanding issues, including the U.S. desire for greater patent protection for a class of drugs known as biologics; Canada’s demand to have access to U.S. government procurement; and an American push to increase the value of purchases that Canadian shoppers can bring back duty free from the United States.

While Mr. Trump would clearly like to tout his success in renegotiating NAFTA for the mid-term election campaign, he will need Congressional approval to pass it into law. He already faces resistance there, but it will be far tougher for him if the Democrats win control of the House of Representatives as many pollsters and pundits now forecast, said Dan Ujczo, an Ohio-based international trade lawyer who has worked for the Canadian and U.S. governments and closely monitors the NAFTA talks.

Concluding the negotiations “are the least difficult part of what is left to do to complete a new NAFTA,” Mr. Ujczo said. “Getting this through Congress is going to be twice as hard as it was the first time around back in the 1990s, given the politics of trade in the United States right now.”

But Canada cannot count on Congress turning down a new deal and keeping the old one in place, he added. Instead, the Trump administration would likely abrogate the existing deal at the same time it puts the new one before Congress.

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On Peter Boehm

Retiring G7 sherpa explains what every new diplomat should know

By EMILY HAWS      
Meanwhile, Graham Flack and Chantal Maheu have been tapped to fill Louise Levonian and Lori Sterling’s former positions at Employment and Social Development.
Peter Boehm says building mutual trust with political leaders takes time, but it happens by being frank, open, and collaborative. He retires on Sept. 28. The Hill Times photograph by Sam Garcia

Be nimble and learn the local language: these are two pieces of advice Canada’s G7 sherpa Peter Boehm hopes to pass along to new diplomats before he retires from a 37-year career in the foreign service on Sept. 28.

Getting out from behind a desk and experiencing the culture of a posting, including learning the local language, is one of the best ways to develop interpersonal relationships, he said, which is key to diplomacy.

Learning the language “gets you more into the [cultural] aspect,” he said, and counterparts “will appreciate what you’re saying because you’re making the effort to speak their language.”

He spoke the local language when he arrived at his five foreign postings, he said, as he’s spoken German since childhood—having been born in a city with German roots, Kitchener, Ont.—and picked up Spanish in high school, which was refined by three Latin American postings.

“I told our local staff, certainly in Havana at the start, that I would insist that they speak Spanish with me even though their English and French was good. I really wanted to learn Spanish,” he said. “If you immerse yourself and you try hard, then it works.”

Representing a government doesn’t mean you can’t do some outside-of-the-box activities, said Mr. Boehm, adding that it’s okay to take calculated risks and young people should be nimble. He’s always found the cultural and sports side of diplomacy interesting, he said, and so when he was posted as the Canadian ambassador to Germany between 2008 and 2012, he brought over the Canadian women’s soccer team to play against Germany.

“We only lost by one goal, which had Chancellor [Angela] Merkel, who was sitting near me, biting her nails, but it was great,” he said.

The constant change in diplomacy—both in the work and in the country in which one is posted—means the career is never boring, he said. His approachable nature has led those in the foreign affairs community, including former Canadian diplomat Colin Robertson, to call him a “contemporary diplomat” because he combines old-world techniques with new technology, such as social media. Mr. Boehm has a very good grasp of detail and his implementation skills have allowed him to deliver final products effectively, said Mr. Robertson.

Mr. Boehm started his career in 1981 as a foreign service officer, and held various positions with both the foreign and trade ministries (which were separate at the time) until 1997 when he was made the Canadian ambassador to the Organization of American States in Washington.

In 2001, he became the minister of political and public affairs at the Canadian Embassy in Washington, D.C., making him the third in command during the 9/11 terrorist attacks. That day was significant in his career, he said, because his work changed completely but also “it was about the world changing” and becoming more security-minded.

In 2006, he helped evacuate 15,000 Canadians from war-torn Lebanon, and as deputy minister of international development from March 2016 until July 2017, he helped develop the Trudeau government’s Feminist International Assistance Policy.

Of course, Mr. Boehm ended his already impressive career with a bang, heading the planning of the most recent G7 summit in Charlevoix, Que. The drama between United States PresidentDonald Trump and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (Papineau, Que.) might have grabbed headlines (Mr. Trump called Mr. Trudeau “meek and mild, and “dishonest and weak”) but Mr. Boehm said he’s proud of the substantial commitments agreed upon by member countries.

“On the girls’ education piece … we were hoping to get $1.3-billion together, we achieved $3.8-billion,” he said. “Being there, it was tiring because negotiations…went through several nights, so a few sleepless nights, but that’s kind of normal for the G7.”

His position was elevated to a deputy-minister level by Mr. Trudeau when he was appointed in July 2017. The move was recommended by an auditor general’s report about the 2010 Muskoka summit, said Mr. Boehm. It makes sense when Canada is hosting, as it allows all aspects of the summit to be housed under one roof with one accountability officer.

Since the summit, he’s been winding down to retirement, he said, but even after Sept. 28, he plans to stay engaged on foreign policy issues, as well as mental health policy. Mr. Boehm has long championed the cause, being on Privy Council clerk Michael Wernick’s mental health advisory committee, and it hits close to home, as Mr. Boehm has a son who is autistic.

“A lot more attention is being put on mental health, and destigmatizing it, and certainly in the workplace,” he said, and he wants to stay involved.

Paul Moen, an Earnscliffe Strategy Group principal who worked with Mr. Boehm when he was a Liberal political staffer, said Mr. Boehm has gained influence in Canadian foreign policy because he “listens as much as he talks” and knows when to push and pull at the right moments.

“He’s able to gracefully navigate that boundary between policy and politics, while maintaining his objectivity and serving governments of different political stripes,” he said.

Mr. Boehm did make headlines, however, for perhaps straying a little too far into the political realm when said the previous Conservative government “suppressed” diplomats’ work during its decade in power. He was speaking during a panel discussion in Ottawa hosted by the United Nations Association of Canada earlier this year before the Charlevoix summit.

Of the idea that he’s politically savvy, Mr. Boehm said it’s learned through observing and “willing to be curious” as well as developing a network both within diplomatic and political circles. A strong network comes into play when important decisions need to be made in a tight timeframe, he said, such as during the 2006 Lebanon evacuations.

Mutual trust allows one to give fearless policy advice and implement a government’s decisions loyally, he said, and comes by being frank, open, and collaborative. One also can’t have too thin of skin because the advice might be rejected, he said, but “that’s the beauty of democracy.”

Not getting caught up in bureaucratic processes is also key, he said.

Boehm’s replacement named in DM shuffle

Mr. Trudeau announced David Morrison as Mr. Boehm’s replacement in a press release on Sept. 21. Starting in October, Mr. Morrison will retain his title of associate deputy minister of foreign affairs, but will add G7 sherpa.

Mr. Morrison was appointed the associate deputy minister in October 2017, and was previously the assistant deputy minister for the Americas. He started with the department in 1989 as a foreign service officer, working in Havana, Cuba.

DM Peter Boehm earns colleagues’ respect as mentor, mental health advocate

By Chelsea Nash      
Leading the government’s foreign aid portfolio, the new DM has worked his way up his department over 30 years in the public service.
Peter Boehm, a longtime foreign service officer recently made deputy minister of international development, in front of a Neil Young poster hanging in his office at Global Affairs last week. The Hill Times photograph by Chelsea Nash

When I emailed Peter Boehm, the new deputy minister for international development, for an interview, he responded almost immediately. He’d be happy to speak with me, either over the phone or to meet me in person at his office. It was a pleasant surprise: high-level government officials such as Mr. Boehm are rarely so accessible and generous with their valuable time.

As Janice Stein, a friend of Mr. Boehm’s and founding director of the Munk School of Global Affairs at the University of Toronto said, “When people become deputy minister, every five minutes counts.” She herself has not spoken to him since he assumed his new role, as acting deputy minister in November, and as confirmed deputy minister in March.

But open and approachable are exactly the words former colleagues and friends use to describe the career diplomat. He’s the “quintessential diplomat,” says former Canadian diplomat Colin Robertson, and “uniformly highly regarded,” says Tim Hodges, former head of the Canadian diplomats union Professional Association of Foreign Service Officers, and a friend and colleague to Mr. Boehm.

He has a large presence. A tall man, he stands out in any crowd, but he also has the sometimes-intimidating aura of someone whose approval needs to be earned. “Professional, curious, well-read, well-travelled, and deliberative in his judgments,” is how Mr. Robertson described him in an email.

He has a dry sense of humour, and is quite soft-spoken, though he doesn’t hold back while answering questions.

Mr. Hodges, who worked directly under Mr. Boehm at Canada’s embassy in Washington, D.C., and regards him as a mentor, said as much. Mr. Boehm was minister in charge of political and public affairs there from 2001 to 2004.

“He’s a tough brief, in the sense that he will read what you send him, and he will digest it, and you had better be up to speed when you get back to have a discussion about what you’ve written,” he said. A demanding boss, but in a good way, said Mr. Hodges, because he doesn’t simply ask for the best, but demonstrates it. Above all else, he is a leader, he said.

“He’s been my mentor, whether he knew it or not, for many years. I think he’s been a mentor for many other people…He not only cares about people, but he cares about people moving up through the system. That is usually voluntary; it’s not required for the job. It usually is after-hours, or find time at lunch time to have a sandwich with someone and talk about a problem,” he said, speaking of the extra effort that Mr. Boehm has given the department over the years.

The DM has been with the department since he first joined as a foreign service officer more than 30 years ago. He is the only deputy minister in the department to bring first-hand experience within the foreign service—18 years worth, in fact—to the position.

Born in Kitchener, Ont., he grew up speaking German and English, and received a bachelor of arts in English and history from Wilfrid Laurier University in the region in 1977, according to biographies of him by his alma mater and his department.

His time at Carleton University’s Norman Paterson School of International Affairs, where he earned his master of arts in 1978, first sparked his interest in the foreign service. He applied then, but never heard back. So instead, he went to the University of Edinburgh on a scholarship, where he completed his PhD in history. At the time, teaching seemed to be the natural course of action for him, however, he wasn’t having much luck with his applications. He decided to try the foreign service again. This time, he heard back.

Next thing he knew, he was on his first posting in Havana, Cuba. He hopped after that to places including Germany as ambassador  from 2008 to 2012, and San José, Costa Rica. He’s also been ambassador and permanent representative to the Organization of American States from 1997 to 2001, and from 2005 to 2008, he was the senior official responsible for the North American leaders’ summits. Along the way, he’s earned the Public Service of Canada Outstanding Achievement Award and the Canadian Foreign Service Officer Award for his help toward achieving peace in Central America.

“It’s fair to say he’s a very results-oriented person, and he wants to deliver. He’s focused always on: what’s this going to deliver? How are we going to execute this? I think that’s a very good combination, to be open at the front end and focused at the back end,” said Ms. Stein.

Aid program review wrapping up

Interestingly enough, “open at the front end and focused at the back end” seems to mirror the format of the international development review the department is in the process of wrapping up. Public submissions on the future of Canada’s foreign aid program stopped being accepted at the end of July, and Mr. Boehm said they are in a period of “internal assessment, and trying to see what are the policy thrusts we are going to suggest to the minister.”

It was the first review of its kind the department has done, he said. Both in terms of the technology used to conduct the review—the department had a portal on its website to accept input—as well as the format of the review itself: the department accepted thousands of submissions from “really anyone in the world.”

Mr. Boehm said “a number of trends are already emerging,” including a focus on women and girls, and their rights and empowerment. Education and climate change are also important themes, he said.

“It’s a very exciting moment because there’s never been a consultation that has been undertaken in this way in our history,” he said, “in terms of really trying to get the most input from as many actors as we can, and trying to come out with a policy that is very 21st century, that is very forward-leaning, and can serve as an example for other countries.”

He said in his capacity as G7 sherpa—representative of the prime minister to the G7 summit—he has also been consulting with his counterparts from other countries for the development review, and talking to them about their challenges and successes.

“There is an exponential need for humanitarian assistance. The needs are high, but we also have traditional development. There’s a squeeze there in terms of how we use the budget, the dollars, to greatest effect. That also suggests looking at new and creative ways of programming and addressing these challenges,” he said.

Mental health advocate

Mr. Boehm also has a reputation for advocating for mental health initiatives, and has made great strides within the department to provide a support structure for foreign service officers.

Ms. Stein said mental health “was an important issue for him long before it became an important issue for many people…He does it in a very quiet, but very persistent, way—which again, reflects who he is.”

Mr. Boehm attributes his determination to advance mental health initiatives and to reduce stigma to his own experience. One of Mr. Boehm’s sons, who was born abroad, is autistic.

“Just travelling with him, and making sure he gets the supports he needs was probably the greatest challenge of my life,” he said. “I’ve been pushing it and I’ve blogged about it internally in terms of my own experience. And if I can talk about it, and write about it, then why can’t others?”

He is the father of three other children as well, ranging in age from 12 to 33. They are all over the globe, from Vancouver to Budapest, doing “different things.” None want to follow directly in his footsteps, he said, though they all seem to have caught his interest in international affairs.

“My 12-year-old, I have a plan for her,” he said with a coy smile. “Prime minister.”

The 62-year-old was reluctant to admit his age, saying he doesn’t think like he’s 62. That’s what his 12-year-old daughter tells him, anyways. And, having only been in his current position since November 2015, Mr. Boehm said retirement is not on his horizon anytime soon.

“Oh I’m not gone yet,” he said. “I’d like to stay involved in international issues. I think I have contributions to make.”

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The Final Round NAFTA?

A little more than a year after negotiations began on a revised North American free-trade agreement, a deal looks possible, although big questions remain.

For much of the past two months, Mexican and American negotiators have wrestled with the U.S. demand around the content rules for our most-traded commodity, the automobile. North Americans produce 17.5 million cars or trucks annually. The original U.S. demand of 85 per cent North American content with 50 per cent of that “Made in the USA” has apparently morphed into 75 per cent North American content with 40 per cent to 45 per cent made by workers making US$16 or more a hour.

The devil is always in the details, but Canadian industry and its workers can live with this and, if this gives U.S. President Donald Trump his “win,” then we are on our way to a deal.

So, too, with the “sunset” clause. Originally, the United States wanted the new agreement to lapse after five years – something investors said would freeze investment, especially into Canada and Mexico. U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer reportedly says it will now be 16 years with a review after six years. We can live with that.

On dispute settlement, or Chapter 19, the picture is murky and we will need clarification. The Trump team originally wanted to jettison the binational mechanism, and it appears there will be investor-state provisions, something U.S. industry lobbied hard to retain, and some form of recourse, beyond the U.S. system, for energy and infrastructure. Canada and Mexico need to stand firm. We need recourse from U.S. trade-remedy legislation – countervail, anti-dump and, as the Trump administration misapplies it, national security.

If reports are accurate, there appears to be near-agreement on agriculture (good for Canadian farmers) and on intellectual property (unchanged) but again, the devil will be in the details.

The negotiators were originally aiming for 30-plus chapters of NAFTA but until now only nine had been closed and, of course, nothing is truly closed until it is all done.

So what remains and how might they be resolved? From Canada’s perspective, assuming we can work out dispute settlement, we need to see action on three more items.

  • Government procurement: Canada wants to retain open access, but the United States is offering a derisory dollar-for-dollar deal. If we cannot work this out, we should leave it to governors and premiers to work out the kind of reciprocal procurement deal that they achieved in 2010. This could be regional or national; the incentive for both sides is that an outside bidder curbs local price-fixing. This will be important especially if Mr. Trump proceeds with his trillion-dollar “Big Build” infrastructure initiative.
  • Labour mobility: We want to update for the digital age the ease of passage for designated occupations. Businesses, especially those with North American supply chains, need this to maintain competitiveness. In the current U.S. environment, this is probably a stretch. We would do well if we can maintain the current list and punt this over to a separate negotiation.
  • Dairy access: Mr. Trump continues to single this out. It is time to reform supply management just as we did with our wine industry through the original Canada-U.S. free-trade agreement in 1987 and then our managed trade in grain. Provide adjustment assistance but open up our dairy and poultry industries, which make good products and, like our beef and pork sectors, and now our grains and pulse production, they can be world-beaters.

While Mr. Trump thinks negotiations can wrap up this week, we will likely see fall leaves and probably snow before the deal is done. Legislative ratification, especially in the United States, is an even bigger question mark. It will likely be the next Congress, chosen in November and taking office in January, that will give “up or down” approval to the new accord. It won’t be easy.

The coming days – more likely weeks – will be a test of Canadian negotiators. They are a very experienced team and they are up to the task as long as the government has their backs.

This is the bigger question: Can the Trudeau government take the political flak that will inevitably come its way? It won’t be sunny ways. If it can stick it out, the Trudeau government will make as big a contribution to Canadian well being and competitiveness as Brian Mulroney and his Progressive Conservative government did with the original Canada-U.S. FTA and then the NAFTA. It would be no small legacy.

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NAFTA and Trump

 Sentiment Factoring Into NAFTA Negotiations
Colin Robertson – Canadian Global Affairs Institute
Farmscape for August 13, 2018

The Vice-President of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute suggests a growing protectionist sentiment within the United States is factoring into the NAFA negotiations.
Negotiations aimed at modernizing the North American Free Trade Agreement are essentially on hold until next year awaiting results of the U.S, mid-term elections.
Colin Robertson, the Vice-President and a fellow of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute, says the U.S. public and now a large number of elected representatives in Congress and at the state level, recognize the value of NAFTA but the tide of protectionism is increasing.

Clip-Colin Robertson-Canadian Global Affairs Institute:
Polling, and I rely particularly on Pew, P E W, I think they’re the gold standard for polling in the United States, their most recent poll, which I think was March or April, suggested that a majority of Americans, around 55 to 60 percent see value in free trade agreements.
They think the United States has actually got something out of it.
They see particular value in a Canada-U.S. free trade agreement because they think we’re fair traders.
However the same polling shows that the base of the Republican party is becoming increasingly protectionist, more protectionist indeed than their representatives and it is that base that Donald Trump relies upon.
A good 40 percent to 50 percent of his base is really anti-trade.
When he speaks on trade he’s playing to that base and that is a factor we have to take into account because that’s the group he’s going to rely upon if he wants to seek reelection in 2020.

Robertson  suggests pressure from the farm community, which voted mostly for President Trump, and the manufacturing sector, many of whom voted for President Trump, is probably what has kept him from rescinding the NAFTA but it has not influenced the administration to bend on some of its more unreasonable positions.
For Farmscape.Ca, I’m Bruce Cochrane.

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Diplomacy by Tweet

Trudeau says Canada standing firm on Saudi Arabia’s human rights abuses

OTTAWA — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says diplomatic talks with Saudi Arabia will continue but he’s not backing down on Canada’s criticism of the kingdom over the arrest of several social activists last week.

Trudeau said Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland had a long conversation with her Saudi counterpart on Tuesday and Canada is engaging directly with the Saudi government in a bid to restore diplomatic ties between the two countries. But an apology from Canada or a withdrawal of the human rights concerns Canada raised, is not on the table.

“As the minister has said and as we will repeat, Canada will always speak strongly and clearly in private and in public on questions of human rights,” Trudeau said during an event Wednesday in Montreal.

The diplomatic dispute began last week after Freeland tweeted concerns about the arrests of social activists, including Samar Badawi, who has advocated for women’s rights in Saudi Arabia. Her brother, blogger Raif Badawi, has been in prison since 2012 for criticizing the government, but his wife and children live in Quebec and became Canadian citizens earlier this year.

On Aug. 2, Freeland called for the release of both Raif and Samar Badawi and, a day later, her department tweeted further criticism and called for the “immediate release” of Samar Badawi and all peaceful human rights activists.

On Sunday, Saudi Arabia expelled Canada’s ambassador, suspended diplomatic relations and slammed the door to new trade with Canada. It has since recalled thousands of Saudi students studying in Canada, moved to transfer any Saudi patients out of Canadian hospitals and barred the import of Canadian wheat. As of next week, the Saudi-owned airline will cease direct flights to and from Toronto and there is at least one report that the government has also ordered state-owned pension funds and banks to sell off Canadian assets.

Many Saudi media outlets and online personalities have taken to the web and airwaves to criticize Canada for everything from the opioid epidemic to its treatment of Indigenous Peoples.

Trudeau said Canada’s goal is not to have a bad relationship with Saudi Arabia.

“We don’t want to have poor relations with Saudi Arabia,” he said in French. “It’s a country that has a certain importance in the world and is making progress on human rights. But we will continue to underline challenges when they exist there and everywhere in the world.”

Earlier Wednesday, Saudi foreign minister Adel al-Jubeir told reporters in Riyadh that Canada has been given the information it needs to correct the tweets and that it’s up to Canada to step up and fix its “big mistake.”

The intensity of Saudi Arabia’s response has puzzled many, who say it is an extreme reaction to a relatively tame tweet that isn’t much different from what Canada has said before.

Former diplomat Colin Robertson, now vice-president at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute, says Saudi Arabia’s “Defcon 3” response is extraordinary, but thinks Canada’s decision to send the message on Twitter may be partly to blame.

“We are becoming too carefree with tweets,” said Robertson.

The 140-character limit, or 280 in some cases, is not enough to allow for the level of nuance that is required in diplomatic relations and tweets may not be subjected to the same rigorous review process, including sign off by the ambassador, that an official statement would be, he said.

“It is diplomacy by tweet that is responsible,” he said. “When you’re the government of Canada and the ministry of foreign affairs you’ve got to be careful.”

Trudeau, who was heavily criticized for his 2017 tweet welcoming refugees to Canada as the U.S. was clamping down on its asylum system, didn’t apologize for making use of the medium in this situation.

“I think people understand that in today’s world there are a broad range of communications tools available to individuals, to countries, to share messages, to make statements,” he said. “We will continue to use the full range of methods of communication as appropriate.”

Conservative foreign affairs critic Erin O’Toole said his sources have told him it was patronizing language in the Arabic translation of the Canadian tweet that really got the Saudis upset. He said the Trudeau government’s apparent preference for social media over person-to-person communications is a mistake.

“Increasingly, both ministers and departments in this government have started using Twitter as a primary means of expressing concern and that has already caused a number of embarrassments for Trudeau.”

Canada needs to learn from its mistake and work on its face-to-face diplomatic skills, said O’Toole, who nonetheless characterized the Saudi response as being “over the top.”

Pm Trudeau says talks are ongoing between Saudi Arabia and Canada to address the diplomatic dispute. Glen McGregor reports.

Saudi Arabia is reportedly planning to sell off its Canadian assets. CTV’s Michel Boyer reports.

Observers say it is unlikely that Saudi Arabia will back down in an escalating diplomatic feud with Canada. Joyce Napier has the latest.

 

Laura PaytonOttawa News Bureau Online Producer

@laura_payton

Published Wednesday, August 8, 2018 10:37AM EDT 
Last Updated Wednesday, August 8, 2018 4:37PM EDT

OTTAWA — The federal government should have been more careful when it tweeted concerns about the arrest of human rights activists in Saudi Arabia, a former diplomat says.

Colin Robertson, vice-president of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute and a career diplomat, says “diplomacy by tweet” is a bad way to issue policy statements.

“Diplomacy by tweet is best taken with great care… as we have learned to our cost,” Robertson said in an interview with CTV News.

“You cannot say in 247 characters or 400 characters the nuance that you want to capture in a diplomatic statement.”

Robertson says a tweet about Saudi Arabiaarresting women’s rights activists is the cause of Canada’s current problems with the kingdom, whose leaders took offence to the call for the activists’ “immediate release.”

“They felt it prejudged their judicial system,” he said.

A number of human rights organizations have raised repeated concerns about the Saudi Arabian judicial system, which sentences people to lengthy prison sentences and employs corporal punishment as well as the death penalty. Amnesty International says torture remains common, and activists have been sentenced to death following “grossly unfair trials.”

Former foreign affairs minister John Baird agrees Twitter was the wrong platform on which to send the message.

“This relationship has gone south and it’s gone south fast, and it’s not too late to rescue it,” Baird said in an interview with CTV News.

“We share an important amount of interest with Saudi Arabia. They’re battling the Islamic State, they’re battling Iran, who has taken out the government in the neighbouring country of Yemen, and it’s in our interest to work cooperatively.”

Baird says he spoke for 15 minutes about women’s rights when he met with the man who is now Saudi King Salman. Baird was Canada’s foreign affairs minister from 2011 to 2015. He now advises several companies and has three clients who do business in Saudi Arabia.

Trudeau must fly to Riyadh to speak directly to the King or Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman.

“You do it respectfully and face to face, and not do diplomacy via Twitter,” Baird said.

Officials say Canada routinely raises human rights issues in private meetings with Saudi Arabia and noted that Freeland raised them in May during a bilateral meeting with the Saudi foreign minister. They did not directly answer whether she raised the concerns noted in the tweet before it was sent.

Speaking in Montreal, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the Canadian government continues to engage with the Saudi Arabian government.

“The minister of foreign affairs [Chrystia Freeland] had a long conversation with their foreign minister yesterday and diplomatic talks continue,” he said.

“But as the minister has said and as we will repeat, Canada will always speak strongly and clearly in private and in public on questions of human rights.”

Saudi Arabia selling Canadian assets: report

The repercussions now include Saudi Arabia’s central bank and state pension funds issuing orders to eliminate new Canadian investments “no matter the cost,” according to a report by the Financial Times.

The move could explain Tuesday’s poor performance by Canadian markets, which fell due to selling activity by an unknown investor.

The reported sell-off is the latest in a series of measures taken by Saudi Arabia since the Canadian government called on the kingdom to release detained female bloggers and activists.

The Saudi government instructed Saudi nationals staying in Canadian hospitals to leave the country. More than 15,000 post-secondary students were previously ordered to leave Canada and return to Saudi Arabia.

Canada’s ambassador to the country was expelled earlier this week, while the Saudis recalled their own ambassador from Ottawa. Trade has also been frozen between the two countries.

Analysts say the moves suggest Saudi Arabia is using Canada to send a message to the rest of the West about attempts to interfere in what it sees as its internal affairs.

On Wednesday, Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister shifted responsibility for resolving the dispute back to Canada, telling a news conference in Riyadh that “Canada knows what it needs to do,” according to multiple reports.

Adel al-Jubeir said there’s nothing to mediate in the spat, and said Saudi Arabia is considering additional measures against Canada.

“A mistake has been made and a mistake should be corrected,” he said, according to a Reuters report.

The Canadian government says it continues to seek clarity from the kingdom “on various issues” and referred questions about the reported asset sell-off, as well as about the foreign minister’s remarks, to the Saudi government.

“The Embassy’s trade officers in addition to the wider Trade Commissioner Service are actively engaged with Canadian business interests and will continue to work with them and the relevant authorities in the coming days,” Amy Mills wrote in an email to BNN Bloomberg.

Export Development Canada, a Crown corporation that provides financing and advice to Canadian exporters, says it is reviewing its position on Saudi Arabia. The commercial institution had the country listed as open for business with a low risk of political interference, the National Post said Tuesday. By Wednesday it had removed the previous assessment and noted the review is happening “in light of recent events.”

With files from CTVNews.ca staff

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Trudeau going into Year Four

Justin Trudeau is in trouble, but he can fix that

Michael Bociurkiw is a global affairs analyst and a former spokesperson for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. A native of Canada, he has written for the Globe & Mail, the Winnipeg Free Press and frequently comments on Canadian television. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his; view more opinions on CNN.

(CNN)There was a jarring sense of déjà vu last week in Canada as images of yet another attack on innocent civilians in Toronto played out on newscasts. A reportedly mentally ill man went on a gun rampage on Sunday evening in Toronto’s popular Danforth neighborhood, killing two people and injuring 13 others. The attack occurred less than three months after a man drove a van into pedestrians in another busy part of Toronto, killing 10 people.

And those were just in 2018. In January 2017, in Quebec City, a man using a restricted firearm killed six people and injured others. And in September of that year, in Edmonton, a man carried out a stabbing and van attack, injuring five.
According to Toronto police, up to half of the guns on the streets of Toronto are smuggled in from the US, and the Canada Border Services Agency is routinely seizing illegal firearms at the Canada-US border. (Media reports say the semi-automatic handgun used in last week’s Sunday shooting originated in the US, although Canadian-sourced illegal firearms arms are a big part of police seizures as well).
Michael Bociurkiw

And these stories are not just anecdotal. According to the Canadian government, the number of homicide victims killed by firearms has been steadily increasing over the last three years. With gun violence on the rise in North America’s fourth-largest city, the government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau must now contend with growing calls for a crackdown on guns in Canada where, unlike in the US, people do not have a constitutional right to bear arms.
The surge in violence on Canadian streets adds to the list of issues Trudeau is going to have to deal with as he prepares for a federal election next year. Just three years into his mandate, the photogenic Trudeau must juggle a host of controversies that have hurt his popularity. Introducing a possible handgun ban in response to the violence and adding a new post for “border security and organized crime reduction” in a cabinet shuffle on July 18 are some of the ways Trudeau is getting battle ready.
But it will take more than that. With his protracted honeymoon over, Trudeau must project himself less as a Prime Minister known for viral selfies and more as a decisive leader willing to stand up to external threats. That may require a shakeup of his own team to prioritize issues management and damage control.
His focus should be on what he can control, starting with curbing the flow of migrants crossing into Canada. Ottawa is also under growing pressure from provincial premiers and big city mayors who say they are overwhelmed with the burden of caring for new migrants who can languish for years as they grind their way through Canada’s notoriously clogged immigration processing system. Last year alone, more than 20,000 “irregular” asylum seekers were intercepted by police along the US-Canada border. These are individuals who have either transited through the US or have already claimed asylum in the US and use a loophole to cross into Canada where the chances of staying are much higher (all the while receiving such benefits as free health care, shelter and work permits).
Little of what the government has done so far has plugged the loophole, and if the northward flow continues, the Trudeau government could be forced to make the entire border off limits to those who don’t use official crossings. Although images of distressed asylum seekers from Nigeria and Haiti may not play well on TV in an election season, cracking down on what some Canadians regard as queue jumpers would have little political downside.
Tough language, a cabinet shuffle and making Canadians feel safer. But with just a little over a year to go before voters head to the polls, is this too little, too late?
Recent public opinion polls seem to indicate a bumpy road ahead for Trudeau, who came into office at 43 with little political experience but good looks, charm and a weighty legacy as the son of Pierre Trudeau, Canada’s third-longest serving prime minister.
According to CBC’s poll tracker, which incorporates several public opinion surveys, with a spread of less than 1%, if an election were held today, the Liberals would either be defeated or end up with a minority government.
Considering that in 2015 the Liberals achieved the largest-ever seat gain in a Canadian election, the plunge in popularity is nothing short of stunning.
Many trace the pivot point back to the Prime Minister’s disastrous week-long, state visit to India last February, when he was widely ridiculed for dressing his entire family in traditional Indian attire. (As Sun Media’s Adrienne Batra put it, the India visit featured more wardrobe changes than a Cher concert). Further damage came first from revelations that a convicted terrorist, Jaspal Atwal, had been invited to two events with the Prime Minister, and then from suggestions from an official in Ottawa that factions in the Indian government had sabotaged Trudeau’s visit.
With an election on the horizon, the disastrous India visit is expected to make for explosive campaign ammunition. “The Tories will play and re-play the India trip dress-up that went down very badly. The lesson being, don’t combine family trips with state visits,” said Colin Robertson, a former diplomat and vice president of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute.
Justin Trudeau addresses groping allegations

Justin Trudeau addresses groping allegations 00:57
But also looming in the background, and considered by pundits as legitimate election fodder, are groping allegations against Trudeau from 18 years ago that have just become public and which many feel have been insufficiently addressed by the Liberal leader, who’s branded himself as a fierce defender of women, even booting a Liberal MP from the cabinet for allegedly calling a woman “yummy” almost a decade ago. Having raised the ethical bar so high, and yet possibly unable to live up to his own standards, the gap will almost certainly be played by political opponents as evidence of hypocrisy. As for Trudeau, he has gone on the record saying he has no recollections of the incident but added, “I respect the fact that someone else might have experienced that differently.”
Then there is a questionable environmental record, damaged by the government’s billion dollar bailout of a controversial pipeline that would bring oil from Alberta, via British Columbia, to Pacific Ocean ports. The nationalization of the US energy firm Kinder Morgan’s pipeline has already generated heated protests in BC and has called into question Trudeau’s green credentials. And it could get worse — a lot worse — should environmental activists and aboriginal groups block construction bulldozers. Ottawa political analyst Yaroslav Baran told me “At the end of the day, if there are First Nations protesters chained to the pipeline right of way, Mr. Trudeau won’t have the guts to send in the army to remove them.”
But, as Canadians prepare for the next election, Trudeau may benefit from an unlikely source: President Donald Trump. In the past weeks, the Trump team has mercilessly taunted Trudeau and rallied against Canada for everything from unfair trade practices to disagreements at the G7 summit in Quebec. Trudeau has been fiercely standing up for Canada — or donning the “Captain Canada hat” as Baran puts it — which in turn has been giving him a slight boost in the polls.
And with every anti-Canada or anti-Trudeau tweet, it’s the gift that could keep on giving for the Trudeau camp. “The federal government’s firm but polite pushback against an increasingly combative Donald Trump on the international stage is playing well politically for the Trudeau government,” said Shachi Kurl, executive director of the Angus Reid Institute of Vancouver.
But, as she and others pointed out, if job layoffs, especially in the auto sector, start to occur as a result of the trade disputes, the going could get really tough for the Trudeau government. He may need to get relief from punitive tariffs from Trump — similar to what the EU achieved last week — all the while shoring up the Canadian economy against growing competition from a super-charged US economy.

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